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Martin van Buren and the American Political System

Martin van Buren and the American Political System

Copyright Date: 1984
Pages: 492
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  • Book Info
    Martin van Buren and the American Political System
    Book Description:

    Donald Cole analyzes the political skills that brought Van Buren the nickname Little Magician," describing how he built the Albany Regency (which became a model for political party machines) and how he created the Democratic party of Andrew Jackson.

    Originally published in 1984.

    ThePrinceton Legacy Libraryuses the latest print-on-demand technology to again make available previously out-of-print books from the distinguished backlist of Princeton University Press. These paperback editions preserve the original texts of these important books while presenting them in durable paperback editions. The goal of the Princeton Legacy Library is to vastly increase access to the rich scholarly heritage found in the thousands of books published by Princeton University Press since its founding in 1905.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-5361-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Donald B. Cole
  5. List of Abbreviations in Footnotes
    (pp. xiii-2)
    (pp. 3-6)

    On December 5, 1782, as George Washington waited at Newburgh, New York, for news of the peace treaty with Great Britain, Martin Van Buren was born in the town of Kinderhook farther up the Hudson River. Almost eighty years later on July 24,1862, as Abraham Lincoln continued his search for a general to oppose the Confederate army, which was soon to invade Maryland, Van Buren died in his old home town. Born at the end of the Revolution and dying during the Civil War, Van Buren represented the second generation of American political leaders—those who lived between the generation...

  7. I. NEW YORK POLITICIAN 1782-1821

      (pp. 9-31)

      Like Webster, Clay, and others of his generation, Martin Van Buren had roots deep in American colonial history. In 1631, Cornelis Maessen (Cornelis, son of Maes) of the village of Buren in Holland, sailed to America, where he leased a plot of land from Kiliaen Van Rensselaer near Fort Orange, now Albany, on the Hudson River. After a trip back to Holland, he returned with a wife and two children to a farm at Papsknee, on the east bank of the Hudson south of Albany. He was soon producing a thousand bushels of wheat, oats, rye, and peas a year,...

      (pp. 32-65)

      The years that followed Van Buren’s election to the senate offered him the opportunity to continue his political education—to articulate a philosophy and to perfect techniques. Before long he was expressing the “truly republican principles” on which he had been congratulated before, and he was building the sort of political party that would become the basis for a new political system. During these years he continued to be in the center of the same sort of legal and political controversy that had marked his career down to 1812, only now the struggles were at the state rather than the...

      (pp. 66-98)

      Even after his many triumphs in 1820 and early 1821, Van Buren knew that his control of New York was not yet assured. Despite laboring to rid the state of Clinton, the Bucktails had only partly succeeded. They had won the legislature and had appointed hundreds to office, but Clinton was still governor and many of the counties and towns were still controlled by Clintonians. The provisions of the state constitution, which gave the council of appointment great power over patronage, made a Clintonian comeback entirely possible. If the Clintonians won back the assembly, which was usually theirs, Clinton would...


      (pp. 101-141)

      While the Regency was taking command in New York, Martin Van Buren was embarking on a new career as United States senator. His shift of interest from state to national politics paralleled a similar change across the land, where problems took on a national character and national affairs took precedence over local. It was a time when debate over the first great set of national problems dominated politics: the tariff, internal improvements, banking, and slavery. In the wake of the War of 1812 and the modernizing trend within the country, the United States Congress became a forum where large federal...

      (pp. 142-182)

      Badly stung by his humiliating setback in 1824 and 1825, Van Buren set about strengthening his political base in New York before resuming his quest for a national party. He had learned through experience that it was a mistake to sacrifice his interests in New York to his national goals. Although he was still determined to restore the old Jeffersonian alliance of New York and Virginia, he first had to regain control of New York.

      Van Buren’s Bucktails were on the defensive in New York in January 1825, when their nemesis DeWitt Clinton delivered his inaugural address calling for popular...


      (pp. 185-215)

      Early in March 1829, Van Buren visited his old political opponent, former lieutenant governor John Tayler, who lay dying in Albany. After reminiscing about past party struggles, Van Buren described his “new duties” in the Jackson administration, which he was about to join. He was saying farewell not only to Tayler but also to New York, for a few days later Van Buren resigned as governor and left to go to work with Old Hickory. Though he had left once before to serve as senator, he had kept close ties to New York, realizing that he needed a strong local...

      (pp. 216-232)

      In the middle of May 1830, part way between the Jefferson Day dinner and the Maysville veto, President Jackson wrote a letter that in time forced Van Buren into a new phase of his career—a tranquil interlude in England. In the letter the President asked John C. Calhoun to explain his behavior during Jackson’s Florida campaign of 1818. When Jackson had exceeded his instructions that year and had invaded Florida, most of James Monroe’s cabinet, including Secretary of War Calhoun and Secretary of the Treasury William Harris Crawford, had argued secretly that the general should be disciplined. Jackson heard...

      (pp. 233-255)

      Shortly after midnight on July 5, 1832, the packet shipNew Yorkdocked at Staten Island, bringing Martin Van Buren back from England. Awaiting him was a warm letter from Jackson discussing the Bank of the United States and other issues, and urging Van Buren to come as quickly as possible to Washington. Hearing that the cholera epidemic had spread from London to New York and not being one to tempt fate, Van Buren refused the offer of a public reception and left promptly for Washington.¹

      As soon as he arrived on the evening of July 7, Van Buren went...

      (pp. 256-282)

      The end of the Bank War in 1834 saw the main outlines of Jacksonian Democracy firmly established. The administration would provide funds for internal improvements that benefited the nation, but not for local projects such as the Maysville Road. After some initial disagreement Jacksonians had united to destroy the Bank of the United States. Although Jacksonians would limit the power of the central government, they would not brook the nullification advocated by John C. Calhoun. Despite Andrew Jackson’s desire for Texas, the Democratic party had restrained its expansionism in order to avoid an internal fight over slavery. Jacksonian Democracy was...

  10. IV. PRESIDENT 1837-1841

      (pp. 285-316)

      After the election Van Buren basked for a few serene weeks in the approval of his admirers. Writing in his journal, Benjamin Brown French, later clerk of the House, commented that Van Buren’s behavior illustrated the adage that men become less haughty as they near the top. French considered Van Buren “ever so agreeable, . . . one of the most perfect gentlemen” he had ever met. James Buchanan was equally generous, praising Van Buren’s “prudence, sagacity & judgment.” Henry S. Foote of Mississippi, added to the friendly assessment calling Van Buren “as polished and captivating a person in the...

      (pp. 317-341)

      Gunfire ended Van Buren’s brief respite on the evening of November 21, when Whigs gathered near the White House, shooting off cannon to celebrate their victories in New York and Massachusetts. It was a rude reminder of his political and legislative defeats during the fall. With the opening of Congress only two weeks away, Van Buren focused on the goals that he had set for himself during the summer—passage of the independent treasury bill and political success for the Democratic party. He yearned to hear cannon sounding in the night celebrating his victories in these battles.¹

      But during the...

      (pp. 342-378)

      By the spring of 1839, Van Buren had reached a fork in the road. After two years of unsuccessful efforts to secure the independent treasury, he was beginning to look ahead to the presidential campaign of 1840. As he prepared for the campaign he had to take account of significant changes. The Regency, having dominated New York politics for two decades, had been overtaken by Thurlow Weed’s Whig machine and would never have the same power again. William L. Marcy had been ousted as governor, John A. Dix as secretary of state, and Azariah Flagg as comptroller. In Washington, Churchill...

  11. V. COUNTRY GENTLEMAN 1841-1862

      (pp. 381-405)

      “In the midst of a storm of wind and rain,” Van Buren landed at the Battery and was greeted by a “tumultuous” crowd on March 23, 1841. Armed firemen and a corps of lancers headed a procession that escorted him up Broadway to Tammany Hall. New York Whig George Templeton Strong wrote sourly that he had never seen “a more rowdy, draggletailed, jailbird-resembling gang of truculent loafers,” but Van Buren called it “the happiest day [in his] whole political life.”¹

      In early May, after several weeks of receptions, rallies, and theatergoing, Van Buren took the steamboat up the Hudson to...

    • 14 FREE SOIL
      (pp. 407-426)

      Soon after his defeat in 1844, Van Buren wrote that his second retirement had reduced neither the “happiness [nor the] cheerfulness at Lindenwald.” Busy with building “a beautiful cottage . . . on the brow of the hill” and a large hay barn in the meadow, he looked forward to the “life of quiet contentment” that had once again been forced on him. In the years that followed, Van Buren became more and more the Dutch farmer, who bragged about having a thousand pear trees and seventeen acres of potatoes. Still vigorous, he brushed away disappointment by going fishing with...

    (pp. 427-432)

    Even before Van Buren died, historians and others began to render a verdict. James Parton cast the first vote in 1860, in his biography of Andrew Jackson. Parton, who had been born in England, served on the staff of theHome Journalin New York before turning his hand to biographies of Horace Greeley and Aaron Burr in 1855 and 1857. To prepare for his life of Jackson, Parton interviewed a number of the Old Hero’s associates, notably Sam Houston and William B. Lewis. The result was a magnificent two-thousand-page biography, which together with Parton’s lives of Franklin and Jefferson,...

    (pp. 433-458)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 459-477)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 478-478)